27th Jan 2021

MEPs propose longer maternity leave

  • The proposal would update a 1992 law (Photo: European Commission)

MEPs have proposed extending maternity leave in the European Union to 20 weeks, a move that has sparked criticism over potential costs to already strained budgets.

Deputies in the European Parliament's women's right committee Tuesday (23 February) voted in favour of extending maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, fully paid, and of granting fathers two weeks of paid leave.

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This goes further than the original European Commission proposal suggesting 18 weeks - reflecting the average in the EU.

"I think this is an important initiative to promote a healthy life-work balance, and healthy companies, families, and individuals," said Portuguese socialist MEP Edite Estrela after the vote.

"Adequate maternity leave should be a right for all new mothers, not just those who can afford it. Additionally guaranteeing two weeks of fully paid paternity leave presents an excellent opportunity for fathers in Europe to play a more active role in family life," said Spanish Green MEP Raül Romeva

The aim is to provide minimum rules across the 27 member states and updates the pregnant workers directive dating from 1992. Under this law, the minimum leave is 14 weeks and pay rate should be no lower than sickness pay in the member state concerned.

The draft legislation has caused strong debate, with some politicians accusing the commission of overstepping its remit and creating new financial burdens during the economic crisis. Britain has been leading the protest against the draft legislation.

Anthony Young, the employment relations minister, said: "The commission's proposals are only at an early stage, but we do have concerns and are lobbying hard to get the right deal for the UK. We already have a generous system … balancing the needs of business and workers."

"It's the wrong time, we are going through a crisis and one of the things this proposal affects are small businesses, we have to remember that small businesses need flexibility to be able to work and this is taking it away, it is putting more legislation on companies that are already overburdened," says UK MEP Marina Yannakoudakis from the Conservative & Reformist group.

From different quarters, the proposal has also drawn criticism for emphasising the role of the mother over that of the father.

Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson chair of the women's rights committee tried to remove wording that obliges the mother only to stay at home directly after birth but it was not possible.

"You cannot be satisfied when we have to lower our legislation, which has a gender perspective, and instead accept this mother fixation, " the Nordic Green/Left MEP told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

MEPs will vote on the proposed legislation on 25 March. Member states then also have to agree to the text. If they change the draft - as is likely - it will go back to parliament for a second vote. The process could take another 18 months.

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